The Red Carpet Cinema - bringing the silver screen to Barton Marina
PUBLISHED: 12:09 13 June 2014 | UPDATED: 12:09 13 June 2014
Nigel Powlson meets Kate Silverwood who has fulfilled her dream by opening the Red Carpet Cinema at Barton Marina
The American-style multiplexes that descended on us for the first time in the late 1980s may have rekindled our love affair with the cinema but the popcorn palaces have never been for everyone.
Which is why Kate Silverwood always knew there was a gap in the market for the Red Carpet, a two-screen cinema with more of a feel of a private screening room, linked to a café and restaurant where film and food mix happily together.
Kate and partner Ian took five years to turn their screen dream into a reality, struggling to convince the banks that they could make it work but, six months after opening at Barton Marina, packed screens and a continually growing customer base have proved the couple right.
For Kate, it’s the next stage in a business career that began in marketing, saw her launch her own café brand in Derby and move into the wholesale coffee business before fulfilling a long-held ambition to build a cinema-café bar in the style of Zeffirellis, a much-loved venue in Ambleside that became the Red Carpet’s inspiration.
Kate’s first job after graduating was in the PR department at Marston’s Brewery. Moving from being a marketing assistant to looking after the firm’s Tavern Table brand. She then moved to Alton Towers.
‘I covered the opening of the Ripsaw ride and the original hotel,’ says Kate. ‘The way they ran the business had a really big impact on me. I learnt lots about how to run a business.’
Kate’s first business venture was Café B, with her original outlet opening along Sadler Gate in Derby.
‘I had seen the emergence of coffee culture in London in the 1980s, long before Starbucks had arrived in the UK. The coffee vibe was starting but at the time I was too young to start up by myself. So I had Café B in mind for more than 10 years but I don’t think I could have pulled it off before.’
Kate launched Café B in 1999 and ran it for six years. There was a beauty salon on the top floor, Heavenly B, and a year later she opened a second Café B in the centre of Burton. Planet B, a variation on the theme, then opened inside Burton Library.
‘I think you do need three coffee shops,’ says Kate. ‘Although it seems extortionate to pay £2 plus for a cappuccino, wage costs are high, it takes time to make an artisan cup of coffee and you only have a limited amount of time to sell it. Rent and rates in Derby were also high. I can see how Costa do it as they have so many outlets but I would never open an individual shop again.
‘At the time I thought I would open 10 coffee shops. I found it easier the more I opened as it was more of a business to run. But I could see the restrictions of it and it proved the right time to end it as I got out just before the crash.’
Rather than diving straight into another business, Kate had her daughter Sarah, now 7, and waited for the right opportunity.
Ian’s route to the Red Carpet is a similar story. He worked for a business that delivered cooking oil into pubs and restaurants and collected the waste. He eventually set up on his own and like Kate saw the coffee revolution coming and so added that as a second speciality.
He sold the oil side of the business but held on to the coffee wholesalers and has grown it around the Burton area with Kate’s help.
But always at the back of Kate’s mind was the ‘film and food’ concept and Ian ‘never needs persuading about any business venture’.
Kate says: ‘I had been admiring Zeffirellis for 20 years and wanting to do something similar but the barriers to entry of something like that are far higher than a coffee shop and you can see from the five years it took us just how vast they are. We were looking at it when the banks were in trouble and finance was a big battle.
‘But I think there’s a trigger in my mind that says “right this is going to happen” and once I decided, both with the cafés and the cinema, there seemed no turning back, no alternative.
‘I don’t think either of us hear the word “no”. We just think that means you have to find another route. We are not invincible but a couple of days after a setback we start to think positively and look for another way forward.’
Barton Marina was always Kate’s first choice for the Red Carpet.
‘What they have done here is amazing,’ she says. ‘We looked at the Robbins cinema in Burton, but there are reasons why these places shut down and you very quickly see it. It also has no free parking and Barton Marina did and that’s one of the things I knew we needed to have.’
Kate admits that after opening on 12th August last year it was a struggle through the Red Carpet’s first autumn.
‘At the start we didn’t know what we were doing and it was no dream. We are still a bit scarred by the start and things breaking on us and going wrong. It’s awful when you have to send people home because we couldn’t get a film on or when we struggled to cope in the restaurant. We suffered real body blows when things went wrong – we so feel it. I never want a single person to walk out of here disappointed.’
Now the Red Carpet employs 30 people and says Kate is ‘delivering what people are expecting’.
It was a case of getting over the teething problems and getting the word out. Once people had discovered the Red Carpet they started to come back and bring their friends.
Kate says: ‘Ian and I try to answer the phones as much as we can so we can find out about our audiences and we can see how it has snowballed. One lady came in at Christmas and she spent £200 in vouchers. She said that everybody she knew who hadn’t been here was getting a voucher, as she was determined we were going to succeed.
‘It’s so amazing that so many people want us to make it work. I’m thrilled that people love it so much – the things they say are so kind.’
Changing face of cinema
The Red Carpet offers a different cinema experience that Kate Silverwood always believed would work.
She says: ‘I could always see intimate cinema coming back, with people sitting in a smaller environment where there’s a more collective experience. The multiplexes have done amazing things, taking apart the old fleapits and bringing in comfortable seating, better sound and air conditioning but they have also removed you from everyone else. You can be sitting two rows apart.
‘I was at the beginning of the multiplex generation. I went to Derby Showcase, which was one of the first in the country, as part of a group every week. It was amazing in comparison to what we had in Burton where you waited an hour in the rain to buy your fruit pastilles. It was a revolution.
‘In a sense, we have turned back time a little bit rather than trying to ramp it up into the future. I feel films are trying to embrace an older audience, too. Philomena was an amazing film for us.’
The Red Carpet has also added satellite equipment to bring opera, ballet, theatre and other events to the cinema screens. That has helped Kate tap into the growing ‘alternative content’ market.
She says: ‘It was another £2,000-£3,000 at a time in October when we were still not sure how things were going and to invest more at that stage was hard. But we did it and it opened the floodgates. Things like War Horse and Noel Coward’s Private Lives quickly sold out. We had Queen in concert on New Year’s Eve and the cinema was packed. I don’t often go and see things but I was determined to watch that.’
Go to www.redcarpetcinema.co.uk.
Live Royal Opera House - La Traviata, June 17th at 7pm, £18. Film and food £29.50. One of the most popular operas in the operatic repertoire. Sung in Italian with English subtitles.
Royal Shakespeare Company - LIVE 2014 - Henry IV Part II, June 18th, 6.45pm, £15 or £26.50
ROH - Manon Lescaut (Live Opera), June 24th, 6.45pm, £15 or £26.50
The early Puccini masterpiece returns to Covent Garden after an absence of over 20 years
Ghosts - Recorded The West End’s Trafalgar Studios, June 26th at 8pm, £15 or £26.50
Richard Eyre’s ‘spell-binding’ adaptation of ‘Ghosts’ by Henrik Ibsen.
Andre Rieu’s 10th Anniversary Maastricht Concert, July 19th, 6.45pm, £15 or £26.50.
Monty Python Live (Mostly), July 20th, 6.45pm, £15. Film and food £26.50
Comedy legends Monty Python perform live from the O2 Arena.